Ban on police using race or skin color to describe offenders - Outrage
WA POLICE have defended their policy of banning ethnic or religious words to describe offenders after it was attacked by the Police Union as 'political correctness gone mad'.
The policy, a direct order from Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan, means officers can no longer use details such as a suspect's nationality, race or religion when seeking public help.
Instead, they have been told to say if the person is light or dark skinned.
WA Police are standing by their policy, saying many people don't actually know what people of different nationalities look like.
"More general descriptors limit the chances for people to make error," WA Police Media spokesman Samuel Dinnison says.
"People have different terms of reference and if we narrow investigations down to specific race, the person may have gotten it wrong and that may limit an investigation. Narrowing it down too much can be detrimental to an investigation."
The Equal Opportunities Commission says the ban was introduced six months ago after complaints that using ethnic descriptions was racist.
The commission agreed that witnesses who made reports to police would often get the ethnicity of a suspect wrong.
WA Police Union president Russell Armstrong wants the rule overturned, arguing that using "scant descriptions" makes it harder to catch criminals.
"If you just turn around and say we are looking for a 20-year-old male, 180cm, with black hair, how many people in the community does that description fit?" he said.
"If somebody is Australian or if somebody is English or if somebody is Nigerian, wherever they are from, police should be allowed to say that in their description of offenders.
One police insider said the policy had prevented the capture of suspects.
"These rules don't give a true indication of who police are looking for," the source said.
"There is a big difference between a dark-skinned person being Aboriginal or African. And if we are looking for an Asian person-of-interest it's a bit narrow to describe them as simply having fair skin and dark hair."
But Equal Opportunity Commission state commissioner Yvonne Henderson said using ethnic descriptions reinforced negative stereotypes.
"It can feed into prejudiced ideas in the community about which ethnicities are mainly responsible for criminal behaviour," she said.
Other states including Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory use the nationally agreed ANZPAA policy which limits the description categories to broad groups including Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander, Asian, Middle-Eastern or Caucasian appearance unless there has been a positive identification of the nationality of a person described.
Read more about Race order is 'PC gone mad', say cops at PerthNow.